Which States Have the Most Guns?

Nationally, guns outnumber both cars and people.

Kentucky, California and Texas currently top the nation in the number of people getting federal background checks in the process of acquiring a gun.

From January 1 to September 30, 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted more than 2.3 million background checks on Kentuckians buying guns, along with nearly 1.2 million checks in California and roughly 1.1 million in Texas. Kentucky’s population currently numbers 4.4 million, which means the FBI carried out one firearms background check for roughly every two Kentucky residents.

Under the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, passed in 1993, anyone seeking to buy a gun from a licensed dealer must complete a background check, typically conducted through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. So far this year, the FBI has completed more than 15.6 million background checks on Americans looking to get a gun.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

Getting Child Care Off the Mommy Track

Child care is more than just a “women’s issue.”

Long relegated to the back bench of “mommy issues,” child care may finally get its chance on the national policy stage.

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has made child care access a signature plank of her nascent agenda, urging middle class tax cuts to make child care more affordable and endorsing universal preschool. The Washington Post also recently devoted rare front-page space and a poll to this topic, finding that more than half of all parents (including three-quarters of moms and half of dads) have passed up job opportunities or even switched careers to help take care of their children.

Surveys show that millennial workers especially treasure work-life balance. And as more of the oldest members of this cohort – now entering their mid-thirties – become parents, child care access and affordability will increasingly become a concern.

These are all welcome developments for those of us who’ve long believed that child care is a universal economic concern – not just for mothers, but for fathers, grandparents, non-parents and employers, regardless of income or education. The cost and quality of child care have enormous impacts not just on parents’ career choices, but on a family’s quality of life, the productivity that employers see and – of course – the wellbeing and future success of a child. Nevertheless, policymakers have consistently treated child care as a niche-within-a-niche inside larger agendas around “women’s issues” or poverty.

Now that child care has a shot at front burner status, one way to keep it there is to ensure its broad relevance – and to avoid the policy and messaging traps that could make it too polarizing or insignificant. Here are a few ideas to help make child care an integral component of a broadly appealing “middle class” agenda:

Continued at the Washington Monthly…


Fixing Food Deserts, One Grocery Store at a Time

Alabama joins a growing list of states promoting supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods.

In and around Birmingham, Alabama, fast food is more than easy to find.

A search for “fast food” on yellowpages.com serves up a smorgasbord of options, including Chick-Fil-A (20 locations), McDonald’s (38 shops), Taco Bell (24 stores), and Church’s Chicken (19 outlets), as well as multiple locations for Hardee’s, Krystal, Burger King, Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen, Bojangles, Sonic, Whataburger, Wendy’s, Subway and Jack’s.

Supermarkets, on the other hand, are much scarcer. The grocery store chain Aldiboasts just three locations in Birmingham proper, while the more upscale Fresh Market chain owns just one store.

In fact, according to a report by The Food Trust, large swathes of Alabama are “food deserts” lacking access to supermarkets with fresh fruit and vegetables and other healthier foods. Nearly 1.8 million Alabama residents – including half a million children – live in low-income areas without adequate access to full-service groceries, the report concludes.

“People are traveling 10 to 20 miles outside their communities to purchase food,” says Jada Shaffer, campaign manager for the non-profit VOICES for Alabama Children, which commissioned the study along with the Alabama Grocers Association.

And that’s assuming people have transportation. More often than not, Shaffer says, families are relying on what’s nearby: gas stations, convenience stores – and fast food.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Alabama has among the highest obesity rates in the country. More than 32 percent of Alabama adults are obese, while 35 percent of children are overweight.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

The Myth of Mobility

A new study finds that the best way to get ahead is to be born there.

Americans enjoy an enduring belief that by dint of hard work and perseverance, anyone can attain the American dream.

Surveys find that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe it’s “still possible to start out poor in this country, work hard and become rich,” while also discounting the value of family background and connections in achieving success. In a 2014 surveyby the Pew Research Center, just 18 percent of Americans said “belonging to a wealthy family” was “very important” for getting ahead.

But a mounting pile of evidence is beginning to show that family background is, in fact, determinative. Family incomes, for example, are highly correlated to rates of college attendance and completion.

Adding to this evidence is a new study – based on a unique longitudinal analysis of income tax data – finding that children largely inherit the income prospects of their parents.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

Revisiting Welfare Reform

A potential update to welfare reform is no substitute for poverty reduction.

In an effort to jumpstart a fresh debate on welfare reform, Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee recently released a “discussion draft” of a bill overhauling the nation’s current welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Billed as the “biggest redesign of TANF in its history,” the draft legislation includes a variety of provisions aimed at tightening the law’s current work requirements and holding states more accountable for moving recipients into work.

“Work is the only way for people to really escape poverty and achieve the American Dream, and we are eager to help more families succeed at doing just that,” said House Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R-LA) at a hearing in July.

Unlike some past conservative efforts at welfare reform, the current discussion draft contains several elements intended to court bipartisan support. While the focus on work is a must for conservatives – as well as for many moderates – the proposal also expands the kinds of activities that count as “work” and maintains funding at current levels. According to National Journal, both Republican and Democratic staffers were involved in the drafting of this bill.

Given that Congress hasn’t passed a comprehensive update of welfare reform legislation since it was first enacted in 1996, the passage of bipartisan welfare legislation would indeed be a welcome achievement. In particular, the bill could solve some current problems with the way in which states are currently spending federal TANF dollars. For example, the Congressional Research Service reports that states spent just 6 percent of federal welfare dollars on work-related programs in fiscal 2013 – while spending 7 percent on administration.

Nevertheless, welfare reform is no substitute for poverty reduction, and Congress shouldn’t treat it as such. Rather, TANF reform is only one aspect of a broader agenda Congress should tackle to move families into work and self-sufficiency.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…